Dr. Krista Summers got more than she bargained for when she walked into the REI store in Seattle to buy a pair of cross country skis. She got the skis - and met her future husband. That encounter would help pave the road to Kittitas Valley Healthcare.
It was November, 2007. Krista, fresh from almost a year working at a clinic in El Salvador run by Doctors for Global Health, was just beginning her first year of a residency in family medicine at Swedish Medical Center's Cherry Hill campus. (Her time in El Salvador served as a graphic lesson in how limited medical resources are in other parts of the world and also how generous people living in poverty can be, she says.)
Prior to going to REI that day, she'd done 30 hours on call, something she jokingly says now might have left a little rummy.
She liked the skis. She liked the guy who sold them to her, Bryon Free, even better - so much so that she went back four days hoping to catch his eye. "She was stalking me," he says, laughing. It worked. He asked a co-worker to cover him so he could "hit on" her. She invited him out for a beer. The rest is history.
Krista wanted to practice family medicine in a small community; he wanted to do a masters degree in geology. Ellensburg proved a perfect fit. He headed to graduate studies at Central Washington University and is involved in the Elwa Dam Removal Project. She took a job with Kittitas Valley Family Medicine.
He proposed on Craig's Hill and the couple, both active outdoor enthusiasts, married in August of 2011 at Mount Rainier in festivities that included a distinctive Kittitas County flavor. The cakes - chocolate and carrot - served at their rehearsal dinner were from Ellensburg's popular Yellow Church Cafe.
The couple share their home in Ellensburg with a rescued black Lab-mix named Matilda who joins them for hikes on area trails, tags along with Bryon on backcountry skiing trips and accompanies them on outings in the community. "I wanted to be in a small town close to the mountains and recreation and accessible to the west side," says Krista. "I love the lack of traffic. We both walk almost everywhere we go. For a small town there are a surprising number of things to do around here. I just went to a roller derby game. It was packed." Those opportunities include music and other programs at Central Washington University, the First Friday Art Walk and the Farmers Market. "That's doggy social hour," says Bryon who calls the community "very friendly."
Krista says one of the adjustments she had to make was getting used to running into patients on a regular basis outside of the office. The only thing she ever wanted to do was practice family medicine, she says, and a big part of the fun of OB work is caring for the mom and baby, then watching the baby grow up.
"I feel like everyone at the clinic cares about our patients and takes a lot of pride in their work. It's a great place to work," she says. The couple says they'd love to stay in Ellensburg. But Bryon plans to work as a geologist rather than teach and both know that means when he's finished with his studies, they may eventually have to move on.
Krista, whose role in the community includes serving on the board of the hospital foundation, won't mind if, by some miracle, that doesn't happen. "I'd really like to stay," she says. "I enjoy my job - and I love Ellensburg."
Want to know more? See Dr. Summers' medical education and clinic information here.